Sunday, June 3, 2012

Gray and Skylight with a Marcy Kicker

Memorial Day weekend in the Adirondacks. The weather on Saturday was best described in one word: perfect. Bright sunshine, no bugs, and a cool breeze. Sometimes, it just doesn't get any better than this. Today was my annual wildflower hike to Skylight to catch a glimpse of the alpine azaleas. I knew it was a bit early, but I figured maybe with the warm weather the flowers would be out. The lower elevations found star flowers, ladyslippers, bunch berries, and golden thread. Up high, the lapland rosebay and diapensia were just peeking out from their buds. No alpine azaleas yet. My next few weekends are booked up, so no alpine azaleas this year. But that will make it even more special next year!

 This was my first time heading out from the Adirondak Loj trailhead since before Irene. So many times I've stopped to take pictures of the iconic scene from Marcy Dam; I must have a hundred. I really hope DEC at some point can afford to rebuild the dam. It's just not the same... All sorts of lumber was stacked up by the dam for the new bridge over Marcy Brook. The bridge is the first project scheduled for Adirondack Mountain Club's (ADK) pro trail crew.

The new view from Marcy Dam
I finally remembered to bring my new "helper" from work - Marcy, the mem-Bear-ship Bear (Marcy Bear for short). I always though it would have been cool to bring a real bear cub to events I attend, but I think it would have been frowned on. So Marcy Bear is my answer to having a mascot of sorts. Plus she is much safer for the kids to hug. Marcy is looking to climb the 46 so I probably should have brought her to Cliff and Redfield when I was there a few weeks back (and Haystack and Basin the week after that). Might be a while before I get back around to those peaks again.

Meet Marcy Bear
Onwards we go towards Lake Arnold and Gray. The start of the trail from Marcy Dam towards Lake Arnold was obliterated by flood waters from Irene. Amazing the power of water. I've been noticing this spring many rocks in the streams rearranged and scoured white by the flood waters. Kind of a surreal scene being played over and over again in the waterways of the high peaks.

The trail  heading down towards the Feldspar lean-to was wet as usual. The bridge over the Opalescent River was missing and the trail rerouted to a rock hop crossing. Lots of trail work and new boardwalks installed in the swamp. Nice job!

Lake Tear of the Clouds
Marcy from Gray
After crossing Feldspar Brook, it's a steady climb to Lake Tear of the Clouds. Lake Tear seems to be draining. Maybe it's because of the low snow year. About half the lake was just marsh. I haven't been on the Gray herd path in a number of years. Last time was during the winter, and we blazed our own trail, avoiding all the ledges on the herd path. Wonder what that path looks like without a deep snow pack. Conditions on the regular route today were typically wet and muddy. One thing nice about Gray - it's a short trip to the top. We ran into only a handful of people (one on her way to 46er glory today!) and had the summit to ourselves. After a quick snack, we slid down the herdpath and hiked on over to Four Corners.

Marcy from Skylight
Mt. Colden and the MacIntyre range
Next stop: Skylight. I think it's a tie between Haystack and Skylight as my favorite high peak. Both more remote so less crowded, and both having killer views. Maybe the slight edge to Skylight as it's home to the alpine azalea.

Haystack and Basin from Skylight
The trip up from Four Corners is short and steep. The expansive summit cone of Skylight is broad like Marcy. Lots of places to fan out. We had lunch facing south presiding over Elk Lake, Allen and the North River Mountains. Then we switched north for views of Marcy and Haystack. We lounged for almost an hour on Skylight. Tim napping and me soaking up the endless wilderness. Now fully satiated and rested, we decided to finish the day with a Marcy kicker. One must regain elevation climbing back to Lake Arnold, so why not regain elevation in a more spectacular fashion - 1000 feet up Marcy in .9 miles. At least half of it is above treeline, the views offering a pleasant distraction from tired quads and screaming calf muscles.

On the way up to Marcy
from Four Corners
On top of Marcy's summit, we joined the throngs of other hikers. Julia, the summit steward for today, and coordinator for the summit steward program, checked us in at number 158 for the day. Whew! Marcy sees lots of action and the summit steward program is integral in educating hikers about the unique and fragile alpine ecosystem found there and on New York's highest peaks.

Marcy's summit
Congratulations were in order for the newly minted 46er we had seen on Gray. Gray was 44, Skylight 45, and she decided why not aim for Marcy and complete the quest. She couldn't have picked a better day! I am really bad with names, so I can't remember hers to give her a shout out. But you know who you are and I'm glad we were able to share the moment with you.

Colden and the Macs from Marcy
On our way back from Marcy, we detoured at Indian Falls to pump some water from Marcy Brook and take a short break. While we were sitting there, a family showed up with three teen-aged girls. The girls were excited about their hike, but even more excited to remove their hiking boots and dangle their feet in the cool waters at Indian Falls. I love seeing young people out enjoying the mountains. A great way to wrap up the day!

Work obligations will keep me out of the high peaks for a few weeks, but wait until you see where in the world I'm going next!

Haystack from Marcy
Julia, ADK's summit steward coordinator, in action

Descending Marcy

Algonquin from Indian Falls
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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cliff and Redfield and Then Some

Finally back to the High Peaks! Saturday morning was crisp and clear as we started out from Upper Works. On the menu - Cliff and Redfield. It's been a while since I paired these two in the same day. Today I remember why. It might be efficient, but my body hurts.

We were on the trail for only about 5 minutes when two gentlemen came on by, quickly bouncing from rock to rock avoiding the mud and water. It was Todd Jennings and his support staff/photographer Frederic. Todd was on Day 1 of 8 of his 315-mile run.Todd is running the entire length of the Hudson River to raise awareness for the Hudson and as a fund raiser for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. (Check out Todd and Frederic were on their way to Lake Tear of the Clouds, the headwaters for the Hudson River. These guys are in fantastic shape. My hiking partner Tim could keep up, but I was having a hard time. I don't think I've ever hiked to Uphill Lean-to so fast!

Frederico and Todd
Todd and Tim on Lake Colden dam
Lake Colden from dam
Favorite view of Lake Colden from Flowed Lands
The hideous snow spines started on the trail to Uphill Lean-to. Sometimes it was supportive and mushy, sometimes it was a post-holing nightmare, and sometimes it was just plain icy. Footing was definitely challenging at times.

Flume on the Opalescent
Snow spine on way to Uphill Lean-to
Cliff was first. The start to the herd path was wet and muddy as usual. We were worried about ice and snow on the cliffs, but they were nice and dry. The weather was perfect as we snacked on the summit. Nice breeze, warm sunshine, and the best part - no bugs. I think the cool overnight temperatures killed off the latest batch of blackflies.

There really are views from Cliff
More views from Cliff
Cliff herd path - yuck...
Embrace the mud!
More snow
Back to the herd path junction and up towards Redfield. As soon as we started to hit snow, I hit a wall. I was hungry and thirsty, and spent way too much energy getting to Uphill Lean-to at supersonic speeds (at least for me anyway!). The summit of Redfield was scenic as usual. Lunch and a rest helped me regain my energy. Still challenging on the descent with the footing, but at least it was downhill! Finally lost the snow and it was easy going on the way back to the trailhead.

Views from Redfield
Allen from Redfield

Opalescent River

 The beginning of the trail to Flowed Lands got a major reroute. The first two bridges over Calamity Brook were apparently casualties of Tropical Storm Irene. It looks like the trail relocation will be permanent.It's a pleasant walk next to the brook with open meadow views.

Herbert Brook also received a new bridge. In the morning when we arrived, there was no bridge, but we could see the bridge deck on the other side. In the afternoon, the bridge was installed. Kudos to the trail crew for nice job!
Brand new bridge over Herbert Brook
Flowed land in the afternoon

Calamity Brook from relocated trail

Rerouted trail
Casualty of Irene

Monday, April 30, 2012

Traipsing Around the Tongue Mt Range

While waiting for the snow to melt in the Adirondacks and the mud to firm up, I'm revisiting some favorite spots and trying out some new ones.

Inlet to Northwest Bay on Lake George

Tongue Mountain Range, Lake George - Today finally felt more like it's supposed to end of March - cool, cloudy, temps in the upper 40s. A drastic difference from last week when it was near 80, but this is more my kind of weather for hiking. No bugs on the trail yet, although a mosquito did find me the other day in my home.

Since the high peaks were in various stages of rotting snow and mud, I decided to stay local and hike where I figured the conditions would be good under foot. The mountains in the Tongue Mountain Range might not be that tall, but don't let the lack of height fool you! The terrain is rugged with steep ups and downs. The loop I hiked is around 11.5 miles and 3700' of elevation gain. The range is home to a population of endangered timber rattlesnakes. They are not aggressive, but be aware where you step and sit and where you place your hands while climbing up and down rock ledges.

I started from the Clay Meadow trailhead, located right on Rt. 9N. The trail crosses a beautiful marshy area, which feeds into Northwest Bay on Lake George. When the trail starts climbing, there is pretty waterfall on your right. This on it's own is a great spot for a picnic. At the top of ridge the trail heads north towards File Mile Mountain, east down to Five Mile Point and Lake George (a great spot for swimming in the summer), and right (south) towards Montcalm Point. I headed south. The first spur trails leads to Fifth Peak and a lean-to, a popular destination for hikers. I was just there in the fall, so I skipped the climb up and instead continued on to French Point Mountain. I figured I would be doing enough elevation today:-)

From the spur trail, it's around 5.6 miles to Montcalm Point. Up down, up down, up down, and then up to French Point Mountain. The views grow increasingly spectacular with each high point. Finally, the summit of French Point Mountain. Wonderful vistas looking north and south through the narrows. The trail goes steeply down from here. Down in the col between French Point Mtn. and First Peak, I ran into the first people of the day. I thought I would see more, but there was the threat of rain later in the day, so maybe that kept traffic down.
Looking north through the narrows

First wildflower of the season
Pond along the trail

It's a long climb up to First Peak, but here, in my opinion, are the best views of the days. There is also a wonderful grassy area that makes for a scenic lunch spot and a well deserved rest! There was not a boat to be seen or heard on Lake George. Peaceful and quiet. This is the last peak of the climb, but certainly not the last climb of the day. There's a few more bumps to go over before the final descent to Montcalm Point. There are plenty of views on the way down and some interesting rock formations to keep one occupied.

From First Peak

And finally, the shoreline of Lake George. A few years ago I hiked this in early April. It was sunny and in the mid-eighties. With no tree cover yet, it was searingly hot. When we reached the water I removed my boots and plunged my feet in the water. Since the ice had just gone out on the lake, the water was frigid. Didn't take long for my feet to go numb, but it cooled me down! Today, there was no need to cool down, but I was wishing I had some tea to warm up!

View from Montcalm Point

I would like to say the trail is relatively flat back to the trailhead, but an elevation profile reveals around a 1000 foot of elevation gain. However, there are some wonderful stretches walking right along the shoreline on the Northwest Bay Trail. It's about 5 miles back. There were a few rain drops here and there, but the rain held back until I was back driving down the Northway. This loop is a high peaks workout without the high peaks!

Along the Northwest Bay Trail

Monday, February 13, 2012

Finally Winter on Street and Nye

Saturday I finally got to wear my snowshoes. Yes, you read that right. Snowshoes!

Because the day was supposed to snowy and potentially windy, we decided to hike Street and Nye. We were planning on this hike a few weeks ago, but warm temperatures and rain a few days before had us guessing Indian Pass Brook would be uncrossable. We didn't even bother to go, which was the right call. Other folks said the brook was wide open and high and they all got turned back. But the weather had finally turned colder so we took a chance. 
Indian Pass Brook

We started out from the Loj parking area in microspikes, the footwear of choice for this winter. The brook was only partially frozen over, but the water level was low and the crossing easy.  We ran into a group from the ADK Schenectady Chapter. They were nice enough to break trail for a while, and then we returned the favor (haha, only kidding...). The higher up we climbed, the more snow we saw. With the trail steepening, it was time for snowshoes, if only to use the televators on our MSR snowshoes (a very cool feature- it props your heel up so on a steep surface your foot remains level and works your quads rather than your calves). I also wanted to put on the snowshoes because my pack was sooooooo heavy with them on the back. Plus, I really wanted to say I used my snowshoes this weekend.

Look Ma - snowshoes!
Moving along, we spotted something strange falling from the sky. It was white and fluffy. We stopped and stared, pondering its significance. It took awhile, but we realized it was snow. How exciting! We were hiking in what we have coined the "Blizzard of 2012" (yes, just a bit of sarcasm here - but it was nice to see).

Climbing up to the ridge
Looking more like winter

Up on the ridge, there was lots of blowdown in the woods, which will probably make for some nice views on a clear day. I was here last year and I don't recall that many trees down. I'm assuming a result from Irene. We stopped at the trail junction between Street and Nye for a bite to eat and chat with a couple of people hiking ahead of us. The Schenectady group caught up with us here too. Before we got too chilled we headed off for Nye, which is no more than 15 minutes up the trail. No view at all from Nye, but then again there never is :-).

Summit of Nye
Coming down off Nye - maybe some views?
The start of the herd path to Street is in fairly open forest and winds and zigzags among the trees. Every time I hike this trail I start singing "The Long and Winding Road" from the Beatles in my head (you don't ever want to hear me sing out loud). I am such a cliché sometimes!

Climbing Street - near the summit

Summit of Street

The trail steepens as it nears the summit. The trees were laden with heavy snow, enhancing the wintery vignette. We finally hit the summit and as usual I walked right past the top. The views are actually just a bit further down the trail. There are views from Street, and usually even better in the winter with a deep snowpack.
No views today from Street

View from Street on a nice day

It was fun coming back down the ridge. I even got a couple of butt slides in. Haven't had enough snow to do that all winter. Hopefully we'll see even more snow this week.

Near Indian Pass Brook, the herd path follows a stream for a spell. There is a beaver living there that is a master engineer. One year it's stream was flooded out and soon after it built an impressive system of flood control dams upstream. It looks like Irene might have taken some of them out, but the beaver is still around judging by the chewed tree stumps. I wouldn't be surprised in the next wind storm if this tree doesn't fall down. That's one big snack. I wonder how big that beaver is!

Beaver snack